TORRINGTON – Twenty years ago, Lee Ann Womack sang, “If you have the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.”
The Nutmeg Ballet is still dancing – from a distance.
Even before all Connecticut schools were ordered to close in response to the COVID-19 crisis, the Nutmeg Conservatory made the tough decision to send all its resident and daytime students home. But that didn’t mean they were not students. That didn’t mean they were not dancers.
The Nutmeg Conservatory is both a dance school and a private academy. The Conservatory Academic Program (CAP) partners with The Keystone School and Laurel Springs School, both of which provide accredited online curricula for high school and middle school students. Normally, Nutmeg students access these curricula via computers at the Conservatory in Torrington. Now they simply access them from home. “There’s actually very little change in that regard,” said Donna Mattiello, Academic Director, who fortunately can supervise the students from afar.
But what about the dancing?
“The most challenging transition has been taking our ballet classes online,” said Victoria Mazzarelli, Artistic Director. “With week four of online dance classes behind us, it has gone amazingly well. It’s not the same as when we’re in our beautiful studios, but we have many things to focus on that work very well via Zoom.”
Cassie Sprance teaches the younger students at Torrington School of Ballet (TSOB) in a similar way.
“Our students have ballet technique every day. We’re really trying to keep the kids motivated and upbeat, which is not always easy – and that’s okay! ” Mazzarelli said, “We have now included Pilates, Yoga and Modern classes.”
Mazzarelli created a Zoom studio in the top-floor Premiere Studio at the Conservatory, complete with ballet barre, a chair, a yoga mat and a sound system. “We also have three classes a week open to our adult students and parents of our Nutmeg students. A few of Nutmeg’s graduates have also joined the open classes. I love including our Nutmeg extended family!” she said.
The students, of course, access the lessons from their computers, tablets or smart phones from their homes all around the country simultaneously. About 30-40 students join in the Zoom classes every day.
The graduation ceremonies for the class of 2020 in May will also be done via Zoom, she said. The live graduation performances at the Warner have been canceled, but graduation will proceed and diplomas will be given.
“We’re doing the best we can,” Mazzarelli said. “The parents do appreciate that we’re staying connected. That’s what it’s all about. We’re all in it doing the same thing.”
She added, “I’m incredibly proud of our students. Together we are working through this situation the best we can. Smiling, laughing, and sometimes tearful that we can’t be together but we are also learning how strong and determined we are!”
Sharon Dante, Nutmeg’s Founder, said, “We are dancing, because we are the Nutmeg Ballet. And, we hope to be back in the live studio action as soon as Governor Lamont gives the word! Many challenges lie ahead for all of us, but in the meantime we are all survivors.”